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November 1, 2012 at 2:50 PMComments: 8 Faves: 0

A Reader's Manifesto

By E.M. Wollof from SLN More Blogs by This Author

Featured on #100daysofhealthy

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." - Ray Bradbury

I started researching for this blog with fairly high hopes. I was going to find some jaw-dropping statistics on the abysmal number of people who still read books. So, like the complacent sheep being led by the tyrant shepherd, I went to the Google and asked it to bless me with all my informational desires. To my dismay, this god of internet crawling came up with its usual fair, statistics on readership published by publishers, editors, salesmen, and scholastic legislators looking for handouts. All of them marketing the need for more readers and the detriment of illiteracy on our great the way, want to buy this?

At this point, even if the stats are reputable and honest, I have lost all trust in the man behind the curtain. I can't tell you how many sites I jumped to before having to walk from my computer, lest I bash my head through its liquidy crystal goodness.

The only consistent group of stats that I found plastered throughout the interwebbies is certainly telling, but I can't verify their accuracy beyond my own experience correlating with their portrayal. For you perusal:

  • 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book the rest of their lives.
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book in their lifetime.
  • 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57% of new books are not read to completion

My favorite source: The Literacy Company (yea, they sell speed reading as their solution)

So, here I sit, statistically inept but brimming with what could only be described as a massive case of confused frustrationitis. And what do you get when you combine lame marketing stats with a case of CF? A rant, that's what.

If you disapprove of all ranting, by all means go back to your ridiculously shaped horny housewives, raging alcoholic roid junkies, and manufactured entertainment "sport" be quite frank, I'm surprised you made it this far.


Let it be known, I am not a parent. What I am is an observer of people, and what I have seen today makes me afraid of what I may see tomorrow. I see parents continuing to buy distractions and self-regulating technological babysitters so they can continue to claim they are raising their kids in a modern world. I see parents shove pre-processed foods, energy drinks, and fruit snacks to hand out like dog treats for good deeds in shopping carts while berating their child for being curious in a gigantic grocery store full of color and wonder. I see parents feign spending time with their kids while simultaneously chiding them for asking questions and generally being excited.

I saw a mother with all three of her children on a leash during my visit to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. While my wonderful wife and I were running around like we had never seen a fish before, this mother was shushing her children and pulling them into line for being excited.

I see parents spending "quality time" with their kids in front of a TV screen for hours on end at night and then sending them off to bed full of fast moving images, unprocessed questions, and a false image of the world.

I see parents failing...

Do I think that a return to reading will fix all of this? Actually, I do. You see, reading a book is so much more than digesting the words on the page. It's an instant transformation to an ideal character. It's the perfect family vacation. It's an ideal family conversation piece. It's an amazing teaching tool. It's a glimpse at one of the oldest ways of sharing information our species has ever known.

Reading a book expands vocabulary, teaches human interaction in both aesthetic and metaphysical terms, builds up cognizant recognition skills, and, most importantly, encourages imagination.

I love video games, film, and the occasional TV show, but nothing broadens the scope of my thought like a good book.

I am fortunate to have a glimpse of our current youth through my gaming experiences. On a daily basis, I am tapped into over 3 million users, and, for an observer, this is a lot of data. From what I have seen and heard, our children are wicked, cruel, and in dire need of inspiration.

Oscar Wilde once said, "It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it." I ask you now parents, do you want your child to grow into the shallow husk you are currently raising? No? Then pick up a book and start reading. Pass that passion on to your kids. Let them know how awesome the journey of life can be.

The Education System

"The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read." -Mark Twain

Many of the faults placed upon the parents apply to the education system as well. Both have become so consumed with the supposed successes of these children, that they have forgotten what success even looks like. So much so that success is no longer measured by anything other than aptitude scores and standardized testing results. What the schools tell the parents is then what the parents begin to use as a measuring stick.

The have continually removed novels from the curriculum that display a reality far too close to the truth that it overshadows the BS they feed their students about the future. Guess what kids? Getting your diploma and a degree no longer means you get a job and the American Dream.

We should encourage our students to read about struggle, about war, about passion, about love, about hatred, about corruption...about life. You know why? Because it all exists! There is no special fairy land that exists where an education means you live happily ever after. Our world requires that you think on your feet, are readily willing to accept change, and that you maintain individuality in a sea of mediocrity and conformist ideals.

By only allowing our kids to meet a constantly lowered standard and then shoving them into the world, we are encouraging that same mediocrity and conformism.

The education system needs to embrace the honor and nobility that it once embraced. Don't come out saying that it takes more money either you ignorant fools. Go to a used bookstore, buy up a bunch of Tolkien, Salinger, McCarthy, Fitzgerald, and unleash these young minds who are yearning for inspiration and a hero. Stopping being yet another corporations wasteful by-product and start educating.

The Author

The amount of absolute crap that gets published today should speak for itself in this wee discussion. I can't walk into a bookstore without being bombarded with another self-help book, an auto-biography that needed to be translated from stupid to barely readable, or the five thousandth entry in a serialized novel by "one of the most prolific authors of our time."

Yea Patterson, I'm looking at you poser. When did prolific become the equivalent of quality? He is an excellent marketer and a wretched author. This man writes the same story every time but he makes the chapters short, his dialogue simple, his action heavy, and keeps his deeper meanings to a minimum. Guess what America? You eat it up! You are so busy that you can't take the time to realize you've been reading the same book for the last two decades?

Authors, stop creating static characters who do nothing but fornicate, kill, and miraculously come out on top. J.D. Salinger created one of the most dynamic and inspirational characters known to literature in under 300 pages and you can't do it with 20 years of serialized writing? No wonder people have stopped reading.

Give them something to fall in love with. Give them something to cherish. One of my favorite quotes from J.D. Salinger actually comes from Catcher in the Rye, "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you feel like it."

Give the world a reason to believe in the sanctity of the written word again. You just may find that you are its saving grace.

"No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance." - Confucius

More from E.M. Wollof from SLN Others Are Reading


  • Hooray for diatribes! Kudos on an insightful article dealing with one of the most troubling social issues of our time.

    I do take exception to your final point, though. While I love the work of the more serious literary talents that you referenced, I think that the work of certain entertainment novelists is vital to get people reading again. Everyone has different tastes, and I think that the Pattersons, Clancys, and Kings of the world are doing their part to encourage people to exercise their imaginations.

    Bottom line: Pick up a book people! You might be surprised what you find.

  • I will grant you King, but only because of the Dark Tower series. I just don't see the same type of character development in these serialized novels that I see in some of the more "classic" literature.

    I am not discounting modern authors at all. I am just not that big a fan (obviously) of the same formulas being used over and over again to SELL books. Patterson does this better than anyone around.

  • For those of you looking for some good contemporary fiction, check out the link below...

    By no means have I read everything on this list, but I have read a few. Some faves:

    Freedom - Jonathan Franzen
    Inherent Vice - Thomas Pynchon (Soon to be made into a film by Paul Thomas Anderson!)
    No Country for Old Men - Cormac McCarthy (Also made into a film by the amazing Coen Bros.)
    Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - Suzannah Clarke
    Everyman - Philip Roth

  • "Everyman" and "No Country For Old Men" are both fantastic folks. I was also a huge fan of "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman, number 22 on the list.

    Mr. McCarthy, I am surprised to see a such a list appear on this entry, essentially devoid of Pattersons, Kings, and Crichtons. What gives?

  • This list focuses on the experience of analyzing literary excellence, not the joy of reading entertainment fiction... Yes, the HP series belongs in the literary excellence category.

    With that said, you don't have to love the dynamics of theme, syntax, motif, etc. to love reading. Especially as a young person.

  • Ah, but aren't those things what help to create and mold great reading experiences? Is it not possible that readership has declined in part to that type of thought process? That we have lowered our standards so far they have finally fallen off?

    I know you have seen the same degradation in our youth that I have. Maybe it is time we stop shrugging off these steadily declining standards and start raising the bar.

  • Many points well taken - long story short - that's why if I'm going to read anything (meaning a book) I go directly to the bible and read the history and stories of Jesus.

  • There is much to be found in the fiction of The Bible, there is no arguing there.

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